This June, 9 students and 2 professors from Iowa State University embarked on a journey to study abroad in Nicaragua for their class, “Engineering—Human Centered Design.” This trip marks what CTI and Emerging Opportunities for Sustainability (EOS) in Nicaragua hope to be the first of many.
Wes Meier, CTI’s Program Director, was on-site to welcome the team and also lay the foundation for their time in Nicaragua. Through his eyes, there was a functional purpose to the trip: giving undergraduate students an opportunity to study abroad and be immersed in another culture while working on engineering design. But Wes also knew that he had an opportunity to plant a seed for a methodology to engineering that was not just designing for the people, but was designing with the people.
“Human centered design” is about working with the people, listening closely to their needs, getting feedback on ideas, and ultimately co-designing technologies. And, the results of this trip speak for themselves on what can be accomplished with this approach. The students designed three simple prototypes during their time in Nicaragua:
1. Coffee roaster: a larger scale roaster than what is currently being used
2. Water catch system: a system that catches rain water from roofs
3. Biochar reactor (combined with a study of biochar in the soil): biochar is charcoal created from left over biomass (i.e. grass, manure, etc.) that when burned in a certain way creates rich fertilizer
Isn’t it amazing what can be designed when we listen first to what the people need?
This trip was a great introduction to this partnership between CTI, EOS and the Iowa State Engineering Department, with students and faculty giving it the green light for future years. The desire is to grow the program, so if you know of other universities that may be interested in participating in a collaborative study abroad program, focusing on “human centered design,” we want to hear from you. Please contact Wes Meier, Program Director, at email@example.com with your information.